Books

Technocrats of the Mind

On June 17, 1971, four days after the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, Richard Nixon declared that “America’s Public Enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse,” inaugurating the War on Drugs.

In Conversation

Ellis Avery and Sharon Marcus with Cassandra Neyenesch

Early in Ellis Avery’s new novel, The Teahouse Fire, (Riverhead, 2006) the narrator describes her experience of tea ceremony, or chado : I felt this one moment in all the world, three women in a room, doors thrown back to the bright day, the drunk bees in the purple flowers. I felt the alchemy of food made flesh. We were candles that burned on rice and salt. These ground green leaves came from earth, water, light and air; and so did my guest’s drinking body. And I myself was a leaf adrift… I felt my mind both river and leaf at once. (p.98)

Everyone Wants their Two Minutes

Jake Halpern, Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) In 2004, ABC, CBS, and NBC spent a combined total of 481 network minutes covering the Martha Stewart Trial. The number of minutes spent covering Abu Ghraib? 336. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that most Americans know more about Brangelina’s international jaunts than they do about the US government’s. We’re a nation enamored of celebrity culture.

Hippo Hooray

“It all goes back to the hippopotamus,” explains the enigmatic zookeeper, Juan Bulgado. The unfortunate animal is killed in 1957 Havana on the same day that Umberto (Albert) Anastasia is riddled with bullets in a barber’s chair at the Park Sheraton Hotel on West 57th Street. The hippo’s death was a warning to the portly head of Murder Inc. But the news came late, and with this tip, journalist Joaquin Porrata, a twenty-two year old slip of a man, turns pro. The day before page one of this awe-inspiring novel, Joaquin was a gossip columnist. In Dancing to “Almendra,” he investigates underworld Cuba.

Looking for Lethe

“The major poetic idea in the world is and always has been the idea of God.” That is not Charles Wright. It’s Wallace Stevens quoted in Wright’s collection of prose “improvisations,” Halflife. Reading Wright’s poetry, it’s easy to understand the poet’s sympathy with Stevens.

Nonfiction: Road Rollins

From late July to early September 2006, the Rollins Band toured the United States with punk-rockers-with-staying-power X. The version of the band with Sim Cain on drums, Melvin Gibbs on bass, Chris Haskett on guitar and Theo Van Rock on sound, which recorded the albums Weight and Come in and Burn, had last performed together in 1997.

David Shapiro: The Poem

David Shapiro’s New and Selected Poems (1965-2006) forgoes the formality of frontmatter and commences without introduction; but perhaps no introduction is necessary. From the first halting syllables of “January” to the sonorous phrases of “Burning Interior,” each piece explains itself fully, citing sources of inspiration, announcing intentions, and guiding us through the chaos of its postmodern aesthetic.

Fiction: Two Swamps for the Money

In the 1950s Ace paperbacks introduced a new form for detective stories and science fiction: two novels, back to back and reverse. On one side would be, say, Prong Monsters of Mars. Turn the book directly over and you’d find, upside down, Robots Invade Paradise.

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FEB 2007

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